19th Century, Culture, Miscellaneous

A Waterloo Benefit and “The Nun of Canada”

Short posts again for the next few weeks, however the course I’m taking finishes at the end of July so I should have some more time to blog after that.

And speaking of my course (online first-year Canadian history), I have two tidbits to share with you here that I included in a recent assignment I did. Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of school projects I’ve done in the past year or two have skewed towards local history, a bias which is hard to shake because… I really like researching local history. Anyway, we had to do a little project on a topic of our choice, and I did “Cultural Life in Early British North America” because it’s a time period that interests me, and a subject that interests me.

I’m going on a bit of a tangent here, but bear with me: speaking historically, I’ve always had a curiosity about Canada’s upper echelon of society, partially because it seems like we never really had one – not in the way other countries do, anyway. (When is the last time you heard the phrase, “Canadian socialite”? Exactly.) Certainly Canada has had its big important families, but we don’t care very much about how they lived, I don’t think. Maybe this isn’t exactly a huge loss, and of course the trend in scholarship is to focus on previously under-appreciated groups, such as women, minorities and the working class. But I found that thinking about Canada’s élite helped me place the young country in a more global context. By learning a bit about Canada’s connections to the international culture, fashions, news, and events that would have been enjoyed mostly by those in the upper classes, I got a greater appreciation for Canada’s place in the world. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that a lot of Canadian history paints the country as rather an isolated backwater (which, to be fair, in some senses it was) without acknowledging that many people had wider connections and remained up-to-date with contemporary cultural life. This is getting long-winded, but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at.

On that note, you may be interested to learn that in 1816 the Kingston garrison’s theatre club put on a benefit for the families of casualties from the Battle of Waterloo – the bicentennial of which, as you may know, was about three weeks ago.

unit8waterloo

(click image to go to source)

I’m not 100% sure which regiment(s) were in Kingston at this time*, but the performance produced a sum of £100 that was sent to the Waterloo Fund in London. It’s strange seeing something like Waterloo being talked about as a current event, and although this performance wasn’t exactly high culture, it does show that scrappy little Kingston was connected to world events through its garrison. I would be interested to know how much the cost of admission would be today, and who would have been able to afford to go to the theatre society’s performances regularly.

*I believe De Watteville’s Regiment was here in 1816; they were an interesting pan-European bunch and I’ll have to research them sometime.

Next, I’ve mentioned this in the past, but did you know that the first novel by a Canadian-born writer to be published in Canada was published in Kingston?

Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing, McGill University (click image to go to source)

Julia Catherine Beckwith (married name Hart) was born in New Brunswick to a French-Canadian mother and English-Canadian father, and was just seventeen when she wrote the manuscript for St. Ursula’s Convent, or the Nun of Canada. However, it wasn’t published until eleven years later when she was living in Kingston. Apparently it’s rather a melodramatic and convoluted story, and it wasn’t reprinted again until 1991, but it’s clearly a milestone in Canadian publishing history, and women’s history as well.

So that’s it for now – I’ll be back again in a few weeks, hopefully with a post about the soon-to-be demolished Film House at Queen’s. (The Film House is actually two houses. You’ll see.)

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4 thoughts on “A Waterloo Benefit and “The Nun of Canada”

  1. This is so interesting! Do you think that there just are far fewer social elite in Canada? Maybe they lived abroad part-time? Or scholars focus on the elite in the United States or the UK instead? Will be interested to hear what you dig up!

    • Those are really good questions, I’m not sure what the answers are! In Brockville, a town near me historically known for being the summer home of millionaires, a wealthy family called the Fulfords stayed most of the year in Wisconsin where the wife/mother was from, and spent the summer in Canada. (This was the early 1900s.) I imagine other families did similar things. However I think it might be just an under-researched area in Canadian history – I’ll definitely look out for it in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  2. cadeauca says:

    I pretty much nodded in agreement with everything you said in your third paragraph. I am SO tired of isolated backwaters idea that people seem stuck on. I will spare you from the long-winded rant I could launch into but to me the perpetuation of that idea and others like it just reeks of pure laziness by Canadian historians.

    Thank you for this post! I had no idea that we were at all involved in the Battle of Waterloo. Also, I love that the “firsts” for Canadian literature involved women, even though Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were from Britain.

    • Okay, I’m glad it’s not just me who thinks that! And yes, I agree it’s cool how women were involved in early Canadian literature, in fact the trend has kind of continued because I’d wager that Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro are two of the most internationally-known Canadian writers!

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